Pokemon Anime Review
Pokémon (TV Series)
/ TV Series / Action / All
A great kids' show.
...A category in and of itself.
US Release By
276 25-minute episodes
1997-04-01 - 2002-11-14
What's In It
- Cute Monsters
- Not-so-cute Monsters
- Monster Battles
- Violence: 1 (mild)
- Nudity: 0 (none)
- Sex: 1 (mild)
- Language: 0 (none)
Ash Ketchum (Ketchum = Catch 'em... Get it?) is a ten year old boy who, like any ten year old boy, is overcome with joy at becoming an official Pokemon trainer. At the age of ten, children are of legal age to leave home to catch and train Pokemon and prepare for the Pokemon League. After receiving his license, Ash receives his first Pokemon, Pikachu. Later joined by Misty and Brock and constantly being tormented by Jessie, James and Mewoth of Team Rocket, Ash's quest to become a Pokemon master will lead to a lot of adventures, trials and excitement.
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The kids love Pokemon, but anime fans are pretty evenly spread out on the 'like it, hate it' sides. Some complaints are that it's childish and dumb. Most complaints go to the syndication treatment such as overlays that cover Japanese writing with English writing, censoring ('natch), censoring/omission of religious implications and Japanese culture, and the dubbing. Do I agree with this? In short, no. The story is simple, but there's some continuity and it's still fun and quite imaginative. Many episodes also provide a good message for children. There are a few edits or dialogue alternations to deal with cultural differences or religious things, but enough is left intact that complaints are really nitpicking. The show is not technically impressive, and while the dub starts out rough it gains strength as it goes along and matches up reasonably well with the original voices. On the positive side, most of the background music is left in from the original, and many of the pokemon retain their original "Japanese" nonsense voices.
Pokemon is a great kids' show and a pretty good anime for the anime fan with a kid at heart, and the syndication treatment is awesome to boot.
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What can I say? Those cute little Pokemon took over Japan and then set their sites on North America. Were they successful? Well, in case you've been living under a rock with your ears plugged, I'll say this. The first line of the second TV opening rings very true to North America: 'We all live in a Pokemon world.'
The kids love it, but anime fans are pretty evenly spread out on the 'like it, hate it' sides. Some complaints are that it's childish and dumb. Most complaints go to the syndication treatment such as overlays that cover Japanese writing with English writing, censoring ('natch), censoring/omission of religious implications and Japanese culture, and the dubbing. Do I agree with this? In short, no. What do I think of Pokemon? I like it. What do I think of the syndication treatment of Pokemon? I am wholeheartedly pleased with it and I support it 100%. I'll explain why throughout.
The main back story is continued throughout the series, but missing a few episodes every now and then probably won't throw you. There is some continuity in Pokemon, but most of the episodes are 90% contained. Lots of them have a basic, but good message for children, most are generally lighthearted and fun and some are important to character and plot development. The main story is a simple but original one. It's not exactly believable, but it's still fun and quite imaginative. One hundred and fifty Pokemon, each with it's own strengths and weaknesses, along with the stories behind some of them are impressive on a whole diversity level. There is a really basic formula to most of the episodes, and it does get very tiring and drags on.
The English adaption has preserved the plot fully, but then again, there isn't anything to really take out. This goes for editing. There is very little, due to a very small amount of objectionable content. I've only been able to spot a few cuts throughout all that I've seen and I've been very surprised with some of the things they've left in. There were some episodes that were taken away from the run, but some of them are making their way back as 'lost episodes'. The most notable one taken out was the infamous seizure episode. I won't describe it, you'll probably find an article that'll explain it a hundred times better then I could, but that is one we probably won't be seeing. Better safe then sorry.
People complain that Japanese and religious elements are taken out of the show. I certainly haven't seen any obvious omissions of these elements. A lot of Japanese culture is in the show from what I've seen (Jessie and James dressing in traditional clothing and white masks while doing their motto, Ash eating a traditional Japanese dinner and having Misty yell at him, etc). There's lots of Japanese culture that most North Americans, children to adults don't get, myself included. The only thing that comes to my mind was Brock referring to his rice balls as donuts. Most people, however, are referring to the overlays. In my opinion, they aren't all that noticeable and are usually used for translation purposes (Gary's writing on the sign saying Ash is a loser, etc). It doesn't really bother me, but I guess it depends on your preference.
Then there's the religious elements.. In all honesty, there probably is some covering up involved, but there's more in here then most syndicated anime. Such as the show with the maiden ghost and the characters sending off the ships with candles in them, or the Clefairy's praying to the Moonstone, etc. I feel people are really nitpicking. For most syndicated shows, they have good reason and I usually join them, but Pokemon is simply not one of them. They should focus on how well it's handled and give praise. Pokemon is a big influence for more anime coming to North America, and the treatment of Pokemon will influence the treatment of future anime.
The characters are all fun. The Pokemon really steal the show however. One Pokemon in particular: Pikachu. I can certainly see why: He's cute, expressive and very human-like. His relationship with Ash is generally well done. The human characters, while not perfect, are fun nonetheless. I'm actually rather impressed with the development of our main hero, Ash. His growth and maturity is very subtle and I didn't realize it until I thought about it. He's come a long way, but still has a ways to go yet. The other main characters are also handled this way to a slightly lesser extent. It's good for children to see characters they may very well idolize grow and mature. But what fun would it be if they didn't have their quirks? Ash can be reckless, Misty can be mean, and Brock has a weakness for pretty girls. And then there's Team Rocket... where can I begin? They make great villains. They're goofy, they screw up all the time, they fight with each other but they're never boring and often amusing. The fact that we see they aren't really all that bad is also good for children.
Technically, Pokemon is not particularly good, but not horribly and glaringly bad. Since this is a kids' show the animation is pretty simple. There may be a scene once in a blue moon where you'll say 'that looked kinda cool'. The Pokemon battles usually range from passable to good, but they sometimes have a very low frame rate and come off looking jerky (not the greatest term, I know). The character designs aren't quite as bad. They're somewhat original here and there. I do wish they were more faithful to the manga, though. The manga has really sharp, original and attractive designs. The Pokemon however, look unique, distinct and interesting.
The next thing to talk about is the dubbing. The dubbing is very good, but not without flaws. Addressing the flaws first, the acting at the beginning of the series was not all that good and the casting and acting on the extras (the people who were around for one show) was poor. However, as the series progressed, the acting kept getting better on the main characters. It's now reached a respectable level. The extras started getting cast a bit better and acted better as well, plus some extras were very good and were right up there with the main characters. But there was that generic voice used for way too many roles. Currently, he voices one of the main characters, Tracy. If you've seen enough of this show you'll know what I'm talking about. Since assuming the role of Tracy, he hasn't voiced anymore extras, thankfully. Pokemon features a lot of recognizable voices, if you're a dub fan and especially if you're a fan of The Slayers (Eric Stuart pulls a double bill as Brock and James and Lisa Ortiz makes an appearance every now and then). The casting started out very good, even if the acting wasn't.
I've downloaded a few three to five minute clips of the Japanese version, which isn't enough to give an opinion on it, but enough to say that the English cast, on the whole, sound a lot like the originals. As the show progressed the cast stayed the same (save for maybe one or two voice changes) though they changed their voices throughout, most notably Ash. The cast now seems to have decided on how they want to voice their character(s) and have stuck with it. In my opinion, they now sound even more like the Japanese cast. In terms of acting, it's not the best dub out there by far, but certainly not the worst, and the casting is right up there. That's just for the human characters.
The Pokemon are dubbed very well, but they feature something that syndicated anime has never done (except for the Dragon Ball Z movies broadcast on the Cartoon Network): Japanese voices. It's true, a large amount of the cast is the original Japanese cast. This is only in the Pokemon, of course. A lot of Pokemon kept their original names and therefore kept their original voices. Other Pokemon who made noises not relevant to their names were kept the same as well. I'm surprised I haven't seen this noted very often.
The most impressive and commendable thing about the dub is the writing. It's wonderful. The dialogue is more faithful to the Japanese version than any syndicated dub to date. Save for maybe one or two times, the writing makes perfect sense with what the characters are doing, what they want to do, or with what's happening in the background. Unlike Dragon Ball Z, we aren't missing much, if anything. Pokemon has been handled well in the translation department.
Now for the music, it remained mostly unchanged. Another element worthy of praise. The theme may be different (it's about as good as the Japanese one) and some songs have been added in, but the BGM is all there. Aside from, again, the broadcast of the Dragon Ball Z movies, syndicated dubs haven't broadcast the original Japanese score for our ears. This really is a treat.
So all in all, Pokemon is a great kids' show and a pretty good anime for the anime fan with a kid at heart and the syndication treatment is awesome to boot.
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There are a number of rip-off shows, from the stock sort like Digimon to more interesting variations like Angelic Layer, as well as a whole heap of Pokemon movies.
Notes and Trivia
Based on three things: An original concept by Satoshi Tanjiri and a tremendously popular series of video games and manga of the same name. Note that there is a sequel TV series (Pokemon Advance) that is still ongoing in both the US and Japan.
A note on the title: While the Japanese title generally uses the full "Pocket Monster" name, it is frequently shortened to poke-mon, which is where the English title came from. The accent that Nintendo uses for the title--Pokémon--is technically not necessary in Romanizing Japanese, but it makes it clear that the "e" should be pronounced "eh" rather than "ee."
Something funny to note about the changed names. They have a couple of Old West puns that were not present in the Japanese version. Jessie James ring a bell? You could have called it a coincidence were it not for the other Team Rocket villains, Butch and Casady.
The main characters' original Japanese names were as follows: Ash was Satoshi, Misty was Kasumi, Brock was Takeshi, Gary was Shigeru, and Jessie and James were Musashi and Kojiro. Musashi and Kojiro were two famed samurai, and Satoshi and Shigeru are rumored to be references to the creators of Pokemon and Super Mario Bros., respectively (Satoshi Tajiri and Shigeru Miyamoto).
For those wondering about the "religious" alterations, the one that generated the most controversy was the "Manji" symbol, a four-armed symbol that has been used in Buddhist art and symbolism for a very long time. It is very commonly seen in Japan--it is, for example, used to mark Temples on maps--but the symbol unfortunately looks quite a bit like a mirrored swastika, which lead to some misunderstandings that eventually caused the symbol to be removed from one of the merchandising spin-off cards. Fans of the original Legend of Zelda may remember that one of the dungeons in the game had a manji-shaped layout, though I don't remember any controversy at the time.
Finally, a note about the infamous "Seizure" episode: the original episode 36, about Porygon. A scene in which Pikachu stops an attack by several missiles included a "special effects" shot of a blue and red flashing pattern. Bright flashing lights can induce seizures in a certain type of epilepsy, and this effect was coincidentally "just right" as a trigger. This, unfortunately, induced vision changes, nausea, or full-on seizures in somewhere between 600 and 700 Japanese children, as well as a few older folks who were watching, most of whom had not previously been diagnosed with epilepsy or had an epileptic seizure. The show was dropped from the air for four months while the phenomenon was investigated, and the problem was determined to be a sort of "perfect storm" combination of the right colors, the right rate of flashing that interacted with the scan-rate of TV, and stressed-out kids sitting too close to the TV. Since then such flashing effects have been done at a lower brightness and particular color combinations avoided, and while the offending shot was cut for Japanese re-runs of the show, the episode was dropped from video release both in Japan and internationally. For reference, this type of epilepsy has an incidence rate of somewhere around 1 in 5000 people.
US DVD Review
There are a number of DVD incarnations, including the "10th Anniversary" editions each of which has a handful of fan-voted episodes for popular Pokemon. All of the DVDs are dub only, though they occasionally feature episodes that weren't shown on TV.
Though there is fighting and the occasional not-entirely innocent comment, it is essentially appropriate for all ages.
Violence: 1 - The Pokemon battles are mildly violent, but the human characters are not often injured.
Nudity: 0 - Nada, it's a kids show.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Somewhat mature jokes here and there (ex. "Gee, that's a cute outfit Misty,").
Language: 0 - Nothing in the dub.
Staff & Cast
Main Original Japanese Cast
Satoshi: Rica Matsumoto
Kasumi: Mayumi Iizuka
Takeshi: Yuuji Ueda
Musashi: Megumi Hayashibara
Kojiro: Shinichirou Miki
Pikachu: Ikue Ohtani
Togepi: Satomi Koorogi
Main English Dub Cast
(Note: There are name changes in the dub. To avoid confusion, I'll use those names. Also, as mentioned above, there are original Japanese voices in the dub.)
Ash Ketchum: Veronica Taylor
Misty/Jessie: Rachael Lillis
Brock/James: Eric Stuart
Pikachu: Ikue Ohtani
Togepi: Satomi Koorogi
Available in North America from VIZ on dubbed DVD and dubbed VHS. The video releases occasionally contain "Never seen on TV episodes."
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